Whether you are going for a sexy vixen or a modern fashion maven look, red lipsticks are a must-have in your arsenal. There are a ton of different kinds of red lipsticks to choose from: true reds for that bombshell pouts, bright orange and pink lipsticks leaning towards reds perfect for summer, matte brick reds for autumn, berries and magentas for a modern twist, and deep burgundies for a grunge edge.
In this complete guide to red lipsticks, I’ll cover all the factors that go into choosing a perfect red lipstick, from your skin tone and hair color, to your outfit and overall vibe. I’ll give you the key secrets and tips for a flawless and long-lasting red lipstick application, as well as a comprehensive list of the best red lipsticks for every skin tone. No matter who you are, you can rock red lipsticks as long as you follow my guidelines!
Red Lipstick Makeup Guide: Contents
• How to Choose the Best Red Lipstick for Your Skin Tone
• How to Choose the Best Red Lipstick for Your Hair Color
• Choosing the Perfect Lip Liner for Red Lipsticks
• How to Apply Red Lipstick Correctly
• A Note on Applying Red Liquid Lipsticks
• How to Wear Red Lipstick: Makeup Dos and Don’ts
• How to Get Your Red Lipstick to Last All Night
• How to Match Red Lipstick to Your Outfit
• When Can I Wear Red Lipstick?
• Best Red Lipsticks for Light and Fair Skin
• Best Red Lipsticks for Medium Skin
• Best Red Lipsticks for Dark Skin
How to Choose Your Perfect Red Lipstick
There are infinite possible shades of red lipsticks, with different undertones and darkness level. Your hair color, skin tone, and general style should all come into play when you choose a red lipstick.
That lipstick that might look perfect on your friend will not necessarily suit your coloring or style, so be careful when taking recommendations from others. Read on to learn exactly how to choose that perfect red lipstick based on your unique coloring.
There are two factors to consider about your own skin tone before you can choose red lipsticks (or any other colored makeup item, for that matter). The obvious one is how dark your skin is, but just as important is whether you have warm, neutral, or cool undertones to your skin.
Red Lipstick Colors for Cool Skin Tones
If your skin has a bit of a pink tint to it (check at the neck or forearm – the face is always more red than the rest of our body), that means you are cool toned. It can be tough to figure out one skin tone, although holding a white sheet of paper against your skin (chest or neck are best) will usually help make it clearer.
For cool toned skin, the best red lipsticks would lean more towards blue or they would be perfectly neutral (which is hard to find, to be fair). This means that if they were sheered out, they would look more purple or pink, rather than orange. Against your skin, the cool undertone will seem more understated, and your lipstick will look like a true red.
While orange-toned red lipsticks are not completely off-limits for you, you want to make sure that the rest of your makeup is also warmer, and that the orange is not bringing out too much pinkness in your skin. On your skin, the orange-reds will look less red and more orange.
Red Lipstick Colors for Warm Skin Tones
Many people have light skin that leans towards yellow or olive. You might notice that gold jewelry looks nicer on you, or that overly cool foundations tend to turn orange or make you look gray.
Those orange-reds and brick red lipsticks were basically made for your warm skin tone!
Brick reds look like true reds on you, while orange-red lipsticks have a bright, summery feel. You can still rock the cool toned reds, but remember that they might look more berry or pink toned when paired with the yellow tones in your skin. For fall, darker, matte oranges are especially seasonal and flattering.
If your warm skin has an olive undertone, rust and brick red lipsticks are your best bets, just like berry shades of red, like fuchsia and raspberry ones.
Red Lipstick Colors for Neutral Skin Tones
If your skin has equal amounts of yellow and red, or simply seems beige without much color, you are actually in luck. You can get away with wearing colors that lean both towards warm (i.e. oranges) and cool (i.e. purples and berries).
Red Lipstick Colors for Fair and Light Skin
Those with extremely pale skin are often also cool toned or neutral, but there are plenty of people with light skin that is warm. When your skin is fair, red lipsticks will draw a lot of attention so you want to keep the rest of your makeup soft. Brighter takes on red lipsticks will really stand out with your skin, and can be a perfect choice for a brighter summertime look.
Darker reds, burgundies, and maroons are not totally off-limit, especially now that a grunge look is really fashionable. However, you want to make sure that your face is well contoured, and that everything else is understated, in order for everything to look balanced.
Red Lipstick Colors for Medium Skin
Medium skin tones tend to lean towards warm, but if you are one of those exceptions, don’t worry, there are a ton of red lipsticks that will look phenomenal on you. Your classic choice is true reds that lean a little towards darker, whereas a brighter red won’t look like a red on you.
You definitely have the most options, because deep, dark red lipsticks will look vampy on you rather than Gothy, while bright shades will look fun and airy. Try things out, and don’t be afraid to experiment with the rest of your makeup, since red lipsticks won’t overwhelm your face the way they do for those with fair skin.
Red Lipstick Colors for Dark Skin
For those with darker skin, a true red lipstick is less likely to look like a red. That doesn’t mean it won’t look beautiful, but it’ll look lighter and super appropriate for daytime.
Softer red lipstick colors as well as matte reds will even look like a natural color choice. For that bombshell red lipstick look, burgundies are a perfect choice, as well as coppery-red lipsticks with a metallic finish.
Skin tones matter much more than hair colors when it comes to choosing a red lipstick, but you should still take your hair color into account. Think of it like this: your skin, hair, clothes, eye makeup, and lip color all come together to create one color palette. You want to make sure that this palette is cohesive altogether.
Consider the following a loose guideline, rather that strict rules, when it comes to your hair color.
• Red Lipstick for Platinum/ Cool Light Blonde Hair: The general rule for blondes is going for muted red lipsticks, like ones with pink, coral or peach undertones. If violet toner is your best friend (after bleach, of course!), you need to be careful with warmer orangey-red lipsticks.
True reds with a slight cool tint will not clash with your hair, but they will still truly stand out, especially in contrast with your overall fair, ethereal look. Think berry red lipsticks and ones with wine undertones!
• Red Lipstick for Dirty Blonde/ Light Brown Hair: Yours is likely the most versatile hair color for red lipsticks. Your skin’s undertone should figure much more heavily in your choice than your hair color, because the red lipstick that will clash with your hair simply does not exist.
• Red Lipstick for Red/ Ginger/ Strawberry Blonde Hair: When your hair already has reddish tones in it, choosing a red lipstick can be harder. It is better to choose a red with similar orange-y undertones to your hair, or to fully commit to a purple-berry red that will contrast nicely against your hair rather than clash.
• Red Lipstick for Dark Brown/ Black Hair: For brunettes, much like with those with dirty blonde hair, almost any red lipstick color can work. However, once your hair is darker, different red lipsticks will have a larger effect on your whole look. A darker red lipstick will inevitably look Gothy, while a bright red will soften your overall look and really brighten your face. Play around, and go first by your skin’s undertone.
A lip liner will make or break your red lipstick look. Choosing the wrong colored lip liner will throw off your whole red lipstick game, so it is important to choose wisely.
On the other side, there are a lot of lip liner options that can be totally right. The most important point is that your lip liner will have the same undertones as your red lipstick: a cool toned lip liner to go with a blue red, and a warm toned lip liner to go with a warm red lipstick color.
You can choose a lip liner that matches your red lipstick exactly, or you can opt for something that is a few shades darker (especially if you like an ombre lip).
Nude lip liner shades and ones in the exact shade of your natural lip color are perfect for creating natural-looking red lips, so pick one based on your skin tone and lips.
While simply taking that luxurious tube of red lipstick, rolling up the stick and quickly swiping it on might seem glamorous, chances are you will end up with a pout that is a little uneven and likely to feather at the edges. For that perfect red lip, you want to take some care, because it will greatly emphasize your lips in a way that should be flattering, but can also highlight imperfections and unevenness.
Step 1: Prep
Make sure there are no bits of dry or dead skin sticking to your lips, because your red lipstick will stick to them, making your lips look patchy. Scrubbing your lips with an exfoliant before starting your makeup should help.
You can buy one like the Sugar Lip Polish from Fresh (available at Sephora), or make your own by mixing a bit of sugar with a couple drops of coconut or olive oil. Finish off with a coating of lip balm.
Step 2: Outline the Outline
It’s traditional to have your lipstick be the final part of your makeup application, but it’s not mandatory. It is easier to apply lipstick after the foundation is done, however, make sure to avoid the red smudging into your foundation.
Along the outline of your lips, apply a thin layer of concealer, and blend out its edges with a sponge – this will act as a guide for your lip line, prevent feathering, and give a crisper look.
Step 3: Lip Liner Magic
Begin outlining your lips. To make sure your lips are lined symmetrically, check your lip line every once in awhile in a large mirror held far away from your face. A small mirror held close to the face will tell you if your lines are clean, but it won’t tell you if your lip shape is wonky.
The key when applying a lip liner is to use small strokes – it doesn’t matter where you start, although a lot of people prefer to begin at the cupid’s bow and center of the lower lip, and to work their way out.
These days I prefer slightly overdrawing the lip line, but if you have naturally large lips (or lip fillers), it is better to stick to your own lip line. For a longer-lasting red lip, finish off by filling in the whole lip with liner.
Step 4: Flawless Red Lipstick Application
The beautiful thing about a lip liner is that it saves you the hassle of trying to get a perfect pout with an unwieldy tube of lipstick. Applying straight from the tube is okay, but you can get a much more perfect application by using a lip brush.
Simply fill in your whole lip with your favorite choice from my list of the best red lipsticks.
Step 5: Clean Up
Even when you take the utmost care, you will usually have to make a few corrections once you finish your red lipstick application. A Q-tip dipped in foundation or concealer is the perfect eraser for fixing bigger issues like a totally misdrawn lip line, or a stray spot of lipstick.
A flat-tipped concealer brush is inimitable in giving that crisp lip line that looks almost photoshopped – simply run it along the edge of your lip line, to sharpen the edges.
Step 6: Set & Highlight
You can read my tips for long-lasting red lipstick to see how to set your look for maximum longevity, but otherwise, proceed as follows. Set the edges of your lip, where you applied that line of concealer, with a translucent powder.
With a highlighting powder or cream, highlight the cupid’s bow and the outer corners of your lip. You can also apply a bit of highlighter or gloss to the center of your pout, for extra dimension.
Quite a few things about applying a red liquid lipstick are the exact same as applying a regular red lipstick. You want to shape your lips the same way, and priming your lips with exfoliation and lip balm is even more mandatory.
However, concerns like setting it and making sure it lasts long all but disappear, because the formula is already guaranteed to last all day.
• Prep your lips with a lip scrub and lots and lots of your favorite lip balm.
• For an extra perfect lip line, follow the same concealer outline routine as outlined in the previous step-by-step red lipstick application guide.
• Since great liquid lipsticks don’t feather, you don’t have to apply a lip liner – just make sure to wipe excess product off of your wand, and then apply the red liquid lipstick around your lip line in tiny strokes.
• When the time comes to apply the red liquid lipstick to your whole lip, moderation is key. Apply a very thin layer, and wait for it to dry before applying a second layer (assuming you want more opaque or darker coverage). You can start by applying to the lower lip, and then press your lips together to distribute a bit of the lipstick to the top lip. Finish the look off by filling in the gaps.
• Once you like how it looks, there is no need to blot (unless you’ve over-applied the lipstick) or set – you are simply good to go! Correct small mistakes with a cotton swab dipped in foundation.
There are no strict rules when it comes to makeup, but there certainly are some guidelines. Since red lipstick is such a statement, you need to be careful and keep the rest of your look balanced. A swipe of red lipstick is never an afterthought – it will always be the focus of your makeup.
• Eyeliner: For all but the very soft red lipsticks, it is better to keep the eye understated. You can rock winged liner and neutral eyeshadows for that perfect 1940s look, but a hint of tightlining or smoked out brown eyeliner can be classic choices that also work.
• Eyeshadow: As far as eyeshadow is concerned, remember that red is a strong primary color that is very easy to clash with. While I have seen some cool looks that incorporated colored eyeshadows and red lipsticks, they were often done by expert-level makeup artists that were able to balance the look (or simply get away with the clash because the blending was so clean).
For warm red lipsticks, a copper eyeshadow could look lovely. Color blocking with burgundy/ berry tones and yellow eyeshadow can also work. Neutral shades and warm metallic shades like champagne, taupe, beige, gold, and bronze are safe bets no matter the type of red lipsticks you like, or your skin tone.
Be very careful working with blues, purples, greens, or pinks. If you really crave colored eyeshadows, stick to jewel tones.
• Eyebrows: Your eyebrows must have a presence to balance out a red lip. If they’re not naturally dark, you should absolutely fill them in, although the style doesn’t matter too much. From messy and bushy to super groomed, anything works. Just make sure to choose a shade that is a couple shades lighter than your hair, and fill in as you like.
• Cheeks: Contour and highlight can really elevate your red lipstick look, by giving your face extra dimension. If you’re wearing a warm red lipstick, opt for golden highlights, and keep the cool-toned highlights for blue-based red lipsticks. Avoid overly bright blushes, and opt instead for neutral, toned down colors.
This is the definitive trick to get even creamier lipsticks to last as long as possible!
• Using a lip liner that is either the same shade as your red lipstick or a touch darker, fill in the entirety of lip.
• With a thin lipstick brush, apply your red lipstick in a thin, even layer all over the lips. If you’re in a rush, applying straight from the applicator is okay as well.
• Blot the lipstick with a piece of tissue to remove excess product.
• Next, since tissues are normally made up of two plies, split the tissue so that you only have one ply.
• Hold the ply over your lips, and with either a translucent powder or matching red eyeshadow, set the lipstick through the tissue. Much like when setting foundation with powder, this will set your lipstick and ensure it won’t slip around.
• If you like how this looks, the whole process can end here. However, the application of powder will mattify your lips, which isn’t always desired. If you want to have the true finish of the red lipstick, simply apply a final thin layer of lipstick.
Since red is such a strong primary color, wearing it with different styles and shades will create a totally different effect on your overall look. Here are the best ways to style outfits when your lips are painted a seductive red!
• Neutrals: All neutral outfits go well with red lipsticks. Whether you’re a fan of the all-black uniform, or you like serene whites, you can interject glamour and brightness into any of these colors with a red lip. The same is true for browns and grays.
• Monochrome: So you want to wear red with red? This can be difficult to pull off well, but if you can make it happen the result is very attractive. When pairing red lips with red clothing items you absolutely must have a perfect match.
A warm red lip with a blue-based red dress will look off, for example. If you go this route, make sure to add some neutral or metallic accessories to break up the color.
• Color Blocking: A primary color like red is absolutely perfect in color-blocked outfits! To do this perfectly you can take note from style icons like Sasha Velour.
Wearing a complementary color or split complementary pattern with red lips would likely be too much, but adding two analogous colors like orange and red or magenta and purple can look great.
• Metallics: Just thinking about a slinky gold dress paired with a sexy red pout and lush loose hair makes me shiver. All shades of metallics work well with reds, much the same way neutrals do.
Golds and metallic blacks go well with all shades of red lipstick, silvers pair better with cool reds, and coppers are perfection with a warm red lip. You can also simply accessorize a more neutral outfit with your favorite metallic jewelry.
• Retro Patterns and Styles: Since red lipsticks instantly make us think about the ‘30s, ‘40s, and ‘50s, it only makes sense to pair them with vintage patterns and silhouettes, like vintage jeans. Wear your cool red lipstick with a 1950s-style hoop skirt and bright colors, while you can reserve your true red lipsticks and warm reds for a more subdued ‘40s dress or a rockabilly look. Polka dots, sweetheart necklines, and bustiers are highly encouraged!
• Casual Looks: Red lipsticks are the makeup equivalent of kitten heels. They instantly dress up any outfit you might wear. While red lipstick won’t really work with your yoga pants and Uggs, it can definitely look lovely and appropriate with a pair of jeans and a solid cotton T-shirt in a neutral or color-blocking shade.
For me personally, it’s really hard to wear red lipstick for anything other than special events. It just seems like too much – too fancy, and not casual enough. On the inside, I know I’m wrong, because I always admire my more adventurous friends when they rock their red lip at the mall, in the office, or even when we just hang out at their apartments.
If you’re like me, and you don’t feel comfortable wearing a true red to anything other than a wedding or party, that doesn’t mean these reds are totally unavailable to you the rest of the time.
On my list of the best red lipsticks, I also suggest some subtle berry reds and orange reds that can work beautifully in daytime, especially when their finish is not too loud, like a satin or a matte. Reserve the brighter, lighter shades of red lipstick for summertime, while opt for brick reds and mattes for the fall and winter.
Whether it’s your first time experimenting with red lips or you just want to amplify your collection of red lipsticks, here you can find the best red lipsticks for fair, medium and dark skin tones.
Best Red Lipsticks for Light and Fair Skin
1. MAC Ruby Woo
This perfect shade of retro red deserves to be first on any list of the best red lipsticks. It is the closest you can get to neutral, so it suits almost all undertones, and on those with pale skin, it looks vivid and striking. It has a soft matte finish, and it is available for sale at Nordstrom.
2. Dolce & Gabbana Classic Cream Lipstick in Fire
Bright and orange, this creamy red lipstick is perfect for summer, especially if you have warm-toned skin. It’ll brighten up your whole face, and draw attention to your luscious lips with its satin-y finish. The tube lipstick formula is super moisturizing, with a pleasant scent. You can purchase it from Nordstrom.
3. Urban Decay Vice Lipstick in Wrath
This red, despite having a shiny pearl finish, doesn’t overwhelm pale skin. It is perfect for neutral and warm skin tones, and can work for almost all occasions. The texture is lovely and creamy, and sure to please. You can buy it at Sephora.
4. Chanel Rouge Coco Lipstick in Antoinette
This subtle, slightly warm red lipstick is the perfect red for someone who is a little afraid of red lipsticks. It is soft and subtle, giving a youthful color to the lip that is undeniably in the red family.
It is one of the few red lipsticks on this list that can safely be paired with stronger eye makeup. The formula is fairly long-lasting, but still luxuriously hydrating. You can pick this lipstick up at Nordstrom.
5. Guerlain Rouge G de Guerlain Lipstick in Gilda
This bright, warm red lipstick is a great day-to-night choice, with just enough pizazz for almost any occasion. Up-class it with a liquid liner, or keep it casual with a rim of smokey brown eyeliner. The formula is moisturizing and creamy, and you can find it at Neiman Marcus.
6. NYX Matte Lipstick in Indie Flick
This muted color is closer to orange, but on pale skin, it definitely registers as a red. As is true to many other matte lipsticks, this shade stays on for a long while, but it might dry out the skin a little bit. Pair it with other warm shades for a soft yet glamorous look. You can buy it from Ulta.
7. Anastasia Beverly Hills Liquid Lipstick in Kathryn
This delicate matte is a pale berry red lipstick that is perfect for snow-white women with cooler undertones. It registers as a very soft red that won’t overwhelm, and is an excellent option if true red lipsticks make your lips look clownish. Like many other long-wearing liquid lipsticks, it is important to apply lip balm first. It is available at Sephora.
1. BITE Beauty Amuse Bouche Lipstick in Sour Cherry
BITE Beauty is known for its deliciously creamy and moist lipsticks. This red seems like a glossy neutral, but it actually has a bit of blue to it, albeit subtle enough that it’ll look beautiful on most. You can find it easily at Sephora.
2. Stila Stay All Day Liquid in Beso
If you’re one of those people who have a difficult time keeping creamy lipsticks on, you can be comfortable knowing that these liquid lipsticks from Stila will not budge. They’re not very moisturizing, so take good care of your lips beforehand. Beso is a perfect true red with slightly cool undertones that’ll suit all skin tones. You can pick it up at Sephora.
3. Huda Beauty Lip Strobe in Saucey
This holographic red lipstick looks like molten metal – it is glamorous and luxurious and absolutely perfect for the holiday season. The blend of pink and golden glitter in here makes it difficult to tell what the exact undertone is, but it’d definitely suit those with warm, medium skin. You can purchase it at Sephora.
4. NARS Velvet Matte Lipstick Pencil in Cruella
These lipsticks in a pencil form give an easy application that makes applying a perfect red lip easier than it would otherwise be. Cruella is a deep, matte red that looks mature and sophisticated, and will suit most undertones. It is available for sale at Sephora.
5. Burberry Beauty Burberry Kisses Lipstick in Union Red
This deep true red lipstick can work on both light and medium skin tones, but for those with medium skin, it can actually work beautifully as daytime red, thanks to slightly cool undertones and a semi-sheer matte finish. This red lipstick can be found at Nordstrom.
6. Givenchy Le Rouge Lipstick in Grenat Initie
For the warm toned ladies, this is a lovely true red that leans very slightly towards warm. On medium-toned skin it’ll give a retro vibe with just a hint of femme fatale seduction. This semi-matte finish feels smooth and lovely going on the lips, and stays put for a few good hours. You can purchase it at Sephora.
7. Smashbox Be Legendary Liquid Lipstick in Moscow Muled
This red lipstick is glamorously unique, with a warm coppery red color elevated by a ton of sparkle. If you have warmer undertones and an aversion to true reds, this is a perfect way to get that effect in a hyper-fun look. This liquid lipstick is very long-lasting, but make sure to layer lip balm under it. You can find it at Sephora.
1. Charlotte Tilbury Matte Revolution in Glastonberry
This ravishingly dark, cool burgundy is a mysterious lipstick with a trendy matte finish. It goes on smooth and stays put, and is best paired with luminized eyes and some strobing. On dark skin, it simply looks elegant, assuming you don’t have orange undertones. It is available at Nordstrom.
2. Kat Von D Everlasting Liquid Lipstick in Plath
Kat’s lipsticks are well known for their incredible pigmentation and longevity. If you have a hard time keeping creamier lipsticks on, this one is for you. This color is perfect for darker skin tones, where it registers as a warmer, more autumn red. It’s ultra-matte, but feel free to layer some gloss over it. You can pick it up at Sephora.
3. Black Up Lipstick in M31
You can feel comfortable choosing a red lipstick from a cosmetics brand owned by and run for people of color, without worrying about it fading into your skin or looking too bright. This cool true red is pigmented enough to really show up, and brighten up your whole face, while the sumptuous formula is to die for. Buy it from Sephora.
4. Too Faced Melted Chocolate Liquified Longwear Lipstick in Chocolate Cherries
Warm burgundies can give you that old-school seductive red lip look when your skin is darker, especially if your pair them with warm highlight and a classic winged liner. This formula from Too Faced is creamy and easy to apply. You can find it at Sephora.
5. Make Up For Ever Artist Rouge Lipstick in C407
This irresistible eggplant lip cream does for dark skin what cool red lipsticks like Ruby Woo do for paler skin. It magnifies the lips and gives an impossible-to-resist seductive vibe, with a satin finish and a lip-moisturizing touch. It is for sale at Sephora.
6. Tom Ford Lip Color in Dark and Stormy
This deep warm brown registers on darker skin as a soft red, perfect for even business settings. It is perfectly matched with gold tones, to give a soft yet upscale look. The finish is timelessly glossy. This nourishing and hydrating red lipstick is available for purchase through Nordstrom.
7. Ofra Long Lasting Liquid Lipstick in Mina
This long-lasting formula stays a little glossy, with a deep shade of cool burgundy that is oh-so-flattering on darker skin tones. You can amp up its darkness with added layers, or keep it softer with a single swipe of color. Warm it up with a golden or peachy lip-gloss for added warmth. It is available for purchase at Ulta.
When do you like to wear red lipstick? Do you have your own favorite red lipsticks? Share your thoughts with us!